Scientist Begins Study on Livestock Enclosures

Jambo!  I’m Alexandra Sutton, a Ph.D. student at Duke University and a brand-new collaborator with the Anne K. Taylor Fund!

As you’re no doubt aware, the Anne K. Taylor Fund has been making huge strides in conservation and community development in the western Masai Mara region – and I hope to be a part of it!

Alexandra with her research team and AKTF Land Rover

Alexandra with her research team Elias and Saitoti with AKTF Land Rover

My assignment here in the Mara is to evaluate the effectiveness of the fortified bomas that Anne’s been helping Maasai community members build since 2009. Bomas are the Swahili name for the livestock enclosures where Maasai cattle owners keep their animals at night. These round fences – some quite large, some small – were traditionally built with acacia branches and thorns. They were meant to be mobile and easy to take down, but also to deter predators from approaching the livestock at night.

But modernity has imposed certain changes on the Maasai way of life – including less mobility and more permanent settlements. As these permanent settlements have grown, so has conflict with wildlife.

(l) A fortified boma, with chain link visible; (r) A sheep killed within an unfortified boma

(l) A fortified boma, with chain link visible; (r) A sheep killed within an unfortified boma

To the Maasai, cattle are everything: they are financial security, social currency, a source of food and raw materials, an occupation, and a heritage. And so predators (lions, leopards, and cheetah), which threaten cattle, threaten the Maasai way of life. Thus, when lions attack cattle (finding them an easier meal than fast-running impala), the Maasai feel compelled to respond. Too often, the response is the widespread elimination of local predators through spearing, shooting, or poisoning – a devastating event for the wildlife-rich Mara ecosystem.

To try to resolve this conflict, conservationists like Anne have begun helping the Maasai to build predator-proof fences in high-conflict zones. By reducing the threat to livestock, we hope to cut down on the Maasai need to defend their homes and traditions through indiscriminate attacks on predators.

My role is to try to understand just how well these predator-proof fences work, and why.

Leopard attack boma

Alexandra with her interpreter Saitoti collecting data

It’s a big question to ask, but one with a big potential reward. In all places where carnivores must integrate with human activity – from the Basque hills to the Tibetan steppe to the Kenyan plans – our work might be able to make a difference.

I’m on the ground now in Kenya, visiting the Maasai at their manyattas and taking down as much data on recent predation as I can find. I’m going to make a simple comparison between the bomas that Anne’s fortified with chain link fencing, and those which are still built in the traditional sticks-and-thorns way. What we find could have huge implications not only for the lions of Kenya, but for wild cats all over the world.

We hope you’ll contribute to our efforts here in Kenya. In high-conflict zones like the Mara, a lion needs all the friends he can get.

With love from Kenya,
Alexandra





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